Local Body Election: The only way forward to local malaise

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Albeit late, the congress led government under the leadership of Sushil Koirala is likely to get full shape in day following the assurance of CPN-UML to join the government. This indeed is a prudent move by the UML- the second largest party in the CA-II, which previously had shown reluctance to join the congress led government under leadership of Sushil Koirala.

Earlier, the relationship between the CPN-UMP and Nepali Congress turned sour when the latter reportedly disagreed to give the plum position including Home Ministry to CPN-UML. However, with the seven points agreement signed between them few days ago paved the avenues for the formation of government and subsequently promulgating the constitution within a year.  The seven point agreement, among other points, also mentions to hold the local body election at the earliest. However, this is not the first time such accord calls for the local bodies’ election as an immediate need to settle the local malady. Several agreement signed over the years has exclusively pointed out the local body election but it remained a lip service.

The last local bodies election was held in 2002 when the people’s war waged by the former rebels was at the helm. Needless to mention, the impact of the conflict on these bodies was very severe as physical infrastructure destroyed, and concern authorities deserted their respective duty station to safeguard their lives. The then government led by Sher Bhadur Deuba disbanded them though there was a provision to extend its tenure by one more year. As a result, the local bodies have been grappling with host of problems weakening local democracy.

The protracted political vacuum of unelected representatives has been creating manifold difficulties and challenges resulting in misuse and mismanagement of development budgets. There are reports of financial embezzlement within the local bodies. Moreover, unaccountability, lack of transparency, corruption, highhandedness and poor service delivery among others are the major problems that best characterize the current local governance.

The most disturbing and irritating phenomena by the local bodies are fiscal malpractices which see no relenting. The reports published by several development partners indicate that there are rampant financial irregularities in the garb of development activities. The same report also highlights that the political parties and the government officials work in unison to maneuver the document and award the grant to their cadres. By any standard, these activities calls for public scrutiny to ensure transparency while awarding the grants for the local development.

Nepals has two tier local governments in which VDC and Municipalities are the lower unit while DDC constitute the higher tier. They are the autonomous micro level democratic institution. They deliver the basic service to the people and spend millions of rupees on local development and social security. Moreover, they function as a bridge between the local people and the central government. However, the lack of elected representatives has thrown them into the disarray for more than a decade. They are now passive and non functional.  As a result, the questions are being raised over the adequate and effective use of local resource and their allocation and productivity.

The ministry of federal affairs and local development admits that majority of DDC have been dolling out hefty sums as donation and assistance under political pressure. The ministry also concedes that there has been undue interference of local goons who exert pressure on government officials to meet their interest. In this context, the ministry also issued circular to various DDC to immediately stop donating the funds to political parties and their cadres.

Another malaise dogging the local bodies over the years is that many VDCs are understaffed and a secretary has to oversee at least 2-3 adjoining VDCs. This has landed them in difficulties while distributing the social security allowances, convening village councils and disbursing the development budget and monitoring the grants. Moreover, the secretary has to coordinate and implement all the development programs, keep accounts and perform the administrative task as well. As a result, secretaries are overstressed, and unable to deliver the output as expected.

Local governance expert and political scientist deemed the situation resulting from protracted political and constitutional void. They argue that local election is the only way out to revitalize elected system of check and balance to ensure transparency. Furthermore, they pointed out that the political parties need to realize that these grassroots institution will not ensure democracy unless they are made effectively functional and vibrant. In a nutshell, it can be said that elected people’s representatives in the cockpit of local development are only the way forward to consolidate the local democracy. 

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